Day 5: Righteousness and Relationship
Illustration: Juliana Crownover
In this first full week of Lent, we explore what true righteousness is. We often think of righteousness as a moral quality. This, of course, isn’t wrong. God’s people should abide by his moral standards. But, as we will observe this week, true righteousness is also much more than this.
If we think the Christian faith is just about keeping a certain set of rules (Dallas Willard calls it “sin management”[i]), we have really missed the point of the Gospel. The very fact that we need Lent every year to examine seriously where we are in our spiritual lives and to examine the impact of sin demonstrates fairly conclusively that we have a very difficult time living righteously on an ongoing basis.
Thus true righteousness is not really about moral perfection, but more about the pursuit of an abiding relationship with God. That’s right, righteousness is relationship. What God is asking us to do is to love him with all our heart and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luk 10.27). That sounds simple enough. But it turns out that it is impossible to do without God’s help, without his grace in our lives.
The commands to love God and our neighbor are essentially the key provisions of the so-called New Covenant which governs our relationship with God. Thus – and here’s the key point for the week – there is no real relationship with God without service to others. We live out the reality of God’s presence with us by working to improve the lives of those in our midst. In a sense, we become God’s hands and feet by working for the common good.
This week, we begin by exploring God’s standard for righteousness through Jesus’ teaching on judgment when he separates the sheep from the goats. Jesus makes what we’ve done for others a central factor in our being counted among the righteous. Next, we’ll explore the broad scope of Jesus’ plan of salvation and the mystery of why so few come to him. Then, on Wednesday, we’ll examine one of the central metaphors of Western mysticism, the idea that we need to ascend to participate in God’s righteousness. There is great mystery to having a relationship with God and we will see this when Moses enters the cloud to receive the Law.
On Thursday, we explore more fully what true righteousness entails, while Friday’s texts will show how we initially become reconciled to God through the Sacrament of Baptism. We’ll find our job as Christians is to live our baptismal vows in service to others. We conclude this week on Saturday with an exhortation to renew our covenant relationship with God by observing the mystery and majesty of the Transfiguration.
Although Lent is a time of quietness and confession, we engage with Lent because we long for a relationship with our Creator. As Jesus responded to the Pharisee who correctly summarized the Law by saying that we ought to love God with all our heart and our neighbor as ourselves, “do this and you will live” (Luke 10.28).